As we approached the GPS told us we were 5km from Kalgoorlie town centre and after a 4 day -3000 kilometre drive we were really hanging out to see it. But even this close to town as far as the eye could see its completely deserted bush.
The desert in Australia is not as you might imagine – well in my mind I picture endless pristine white sand like they have in the Sahara. Australia is nothing like that the earth is a rich red literally baked and contrary to popular desert images it’s full of trees and shrubs and wildlife. Even in October the heat was hot and dry, the kind of heat that makes your skin prickle. Coming from Melbourne which is still very cold at that time of year, it instantly brightened our mood. It’s always exciting being in a warmer climate to your friends.
We hit the industrial end of town first which we couldn’t have been prepared for. We watched every single You Tube clip and anything we could get our hands on the net. Which is only a handful of dull clips that are all unfortunately really old. We had also watched every episode of Kalgoorlie cops a dozen times, but they only focus on the crime and nightlife not the day to day life style. My first thought were oH Nooooooo there are no shops what am I going to do? Have we made a HUGE mistake?
It was 9am with the time zone difference being 3 hours our bodies were screaming for lunch already. So we headed to a café called Dome which reminded me a bit of Starbucks. Apparently Dome is all over Western Australia but we had not heard of it. The food was fine nothing exciting but obviously trustworthy.
(Unmarked graves at Kalgoorlie cemetery)
The main part of town consists of a long large street Hannan Street which has all the shops and most famous bars along it. The street itself on first impression reminded me of Bridge Road in Melbourne old fashioned architecture and a bit cosmopolitan. There are defiantly all walks of life living in this town. This is a melting pot of people and there is a lot of both extreme poverty and ridiculous wealth all living close together in peace.
It’s the 5 largest city in Western Australia with a population of around 30’000 people. There are a lot of immigrants from all over the world that have come to make their fortunes mining in the goldfields. The 3 main countries at the moment are South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand. There is also a big Thai and Filipino community as well. It’s impossible to go a day without hearing one of these accents from the people you encounter.
(On the road into Kalgoorlie a loan toilet sits on a hill of quartz rock)
Let me put the money side into perspective a little. Wages for miners with even the most menial of jobs would start at $100’000 and quickly rise based on skill, complexity of task, danger of task and length of time in the mining industry. Even maids and cooks start of $80’000 or $90’000. They struggle to find Australian workers that are willing to stick around or even do the work to begin with so most are from overseas. In my experience the overseas workers get paid less per hour. This is mostly because they are stuck on contracts (usually 3 years) that they cannot get out of. The companies will pay for them to re-locate from overseas and sponsor any Australian licenses they need (which take ages to arrange) in return they are stuck on a flat rate for years earning at least $10 ~$20 per hour less.
Miners work really long days and nights as mines never shut. So it’s a 12 hour day of hard labour in extreme conditions. They also usually work in very harsh remote locations either being flown in for their swing (shift usually 12 days in a row) or drive in. They stay in dongas (portable basic rooms). Some mine sites are much nicer than others as is life. There is a mess hall for meals and when you go in for breakfast you pack your own lunch to take down to site or underground with you. The miners all have their own esky’s and 5 litre water cooler bottles. There are ice machines down there, but if you miss breakfast then you won’t have a chance to make lunch. Miners need to pass drug and alcohol test daily and there are always rumours about how to fake them or beat the test. Mine sites also restrict the amount of alcohol you can have, I’ve heard of different methods, they only open the wet mess (bar) for a couple of ours, other mine sites only sell you a limited amount daily or they only have light beer. In this industry alcoholism is rife!
(KCGM Super pit mine site)
So the city of Kalgoorlie was built by the mining companies and for mining families with a LOT of disposable income and in their shift off they want to spend it. That’s why just next door to the post office and near the supermarket is a brothel and it’s such a part of the town culture it’s somehow not offencive or strange at all. In fact they do a tour through the day and serve home baked cookies, they even have a gift shop. That’s also why there are about 20 pubs all within walking distance. Some of them serve excellent food; there are places for fine dining that you would need to have a reservation for any night of the week and it’s going to cost $100 per head. There are all the major fast food places including, maccas, KFC, red rooster, subway, jesters, nandos etc. Food wise what I feel is lacking compared to the amazing fare in big cities is Asian food, the Chinese food is very poor they don’t have yum cha sessions either. The Japanese is also disappointing –and before you moan I am allowed to judge I lived there long enough!!
(In front of the legendary Exchange Hotel in Hannan Street, Kalgoorlie)
There are also all the main shopping chains that most shopping centres have which was a massive relief. It was very hard prior to coming to research what shops Kalgoorlie has if you just ask google a whole lot of random results came when what I really wanted was a list. They have K-mart, Target, Dusk, Sanity, Just Jeans, Jeans, West, Supre, Diva, Jay Jays, Rivers, Katies, Susans, Betts, Collins, Priceline and many more. But more than anything else there are so many jewellery shops and pharmacies.
All in all Kalgoorlie seems to be quite family orientated and peaceful. We live on a street very near the main part of town and do hear (especially on Friday and Saturday nights) the odd yelling and someone publicly drunk.